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‘Telemedicine will increase Nigerians access to premium healthcare’

Ayo Shonibare is the chief medical director of Evercare Hospital Lekki and a consultant Urologist and Kidney Transplant Surgeon with over 30 years of experience. In this interview with ANTHONIA OBOKOH, he talked about Evercare Hospital entry into the Nigerian healthcare sector and its recently launched telemedicine platform.

You recently just joined Evercare Hospital Lekki as the chief medical officer; can you tell us more about Evercare Hospital?

Evercare Group (‘Evercare’) is an integrated healthcare delivery platform operating in emerging markets across Africa and South Asia, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Nigeria. Evercare helps communities thrive by improving healthcare and leveraging technology & integration to increase the quality of care. Evercare’s portfolio includes 30 hospitals, 16 clinics, over 50 diagnostics centers, and two brownfield assets.

Evercare is wholly owned by the Evercare Health Fund, a US$ 1 billion emerging markets healthcare fund managed by The Rise Fund -the impact investment platform of global alternative asset manager, TPG Capital.

Evercare has been operating in some other African countries, what informed your decision to make an entry into the Nigerian healthcare market?

With over 200 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the sixth most populous country in the world. Although progress has been made over the last few years, Nigeria’s healthcare system does not provide the level of service required to meet the needs of its population, which has led to the increasing population of Nigerians exiting the country to seek medical treatment abroad. It is estimated that Nigeria loses about $1.3 billion to medical tourism yearly, which has caused a huge burden on the nation’s economy and has become a matter of urgency to revamp the health sector to edge the medical tourism trend. This has created an opportunity for stakeholders like Evercare to step in and bridge the gap in the healthcare industry with the right level of investment.

Nigeria is the second healthcare investment destination, after Kenya, for the Evercare Global Health Fund as our objective at Evercare is to provide much needed integrated healthcare services to markets that need it. Evercare Hospital Lekki is an example of that strategy put into practice, bringing a vital suite of services to patients across the region, and elevating the standard of healthcare.

Ahead of the hospital’s official unveiling in Nigeria, reports state that you have already launched your Telemedicine platform, ‘Ecare’, Can you tell us more about this service?

With the advent of new technologies, telemedicine has become increasingly popular — and increasingly important — in recent years. Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients’ utilizing telecommunications technology and Ecare is our telemedicine platform that offers tele and video consultations with our general practitioners and Specialist Doctors in various fields of Medicine. This innovative platform which is the first of its kind in Nigeria brings about a change in the Outpatient consultation model as it allows Clinicians to reach out to their patients remotely via a video conferencing model to be able to address their healthcare needs effectively. It allows the patient to book appointments and consults with doctors conveniently from the comfort of their homes.

What informed Evercare’s decision to provide Ecare to Nigerians?

Globally, telemedicine is not a new concept and it is one of the most powerful forces reshaping the healthcare and wellness industries today, both for patients and healthcare providers. Nigeria’s growing population and desire for accessible quality care have created a high demand for healthcare services and a huge market for telemedicine to thrive in.

Evercare Hospital Lekki recently adopted this telemedicine initiative out of the need to ensure that all Nigerians regardless of their physical location can have access to premium healthcare services. Although the COVID-19 global pandemic has increased the need for telemedical intervention as patients have become more reluctant to visit hospitals due to the fear of exposure to the virus, Ecare is a strategic long term initiative that will continue to operate and provide services beyond the pandemic.

Our mission at Evercare Hospital Lekki is to constantly innovate to ensure delivery of best in class standards of patient safety, clinical excellence, and outstanding clinical outcomes and the launch of Ecare is a testament to this.

What aspects of medicine are Ecare tailored to offer services?

Ecare provides access to a wide range of consultants in different areas of medicine such as General and Family Medicine, Neurology, Nephrology, Neonatology, Pediatrics, Urology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Radiology, Neurosurgery, Cardiology, Orthopedics, Pediatric Surgery, and General Surgery. We want our patients to have access to specialists across all their needs, multi-disciplinary care, less than one platform.

In your opinion, what are the benefits of telemedicine?

The benefits of telemedicine are numerous for both patients and health providers. One of the most obvious and widespread benefits of telemedicine is that it greatly increases access to care. The increased accessibility afforded by telemedicine helps to level the playing field, allowing a greater number of people to have access to healthcare more frequently and comprehensively. This is especially valuable in developing countries like Nigeria, as well as for patients who require specialized services. The disabled, elderly, and other demographic groups who otherwise have difficulty in physically going to a doctor’s office, or in traffic/sitting around waiting for hours, can often be better served with telemedicine appointments in many cases.

Telemedicine is also often significantly less costly than traditional, in-person appointments. It also gives patients the confidence of being able to access their clinicians in their time of need and facilitates patient engagement which allows continuity of care. In Nigeria, telemedicine has the potential to improve access to quality healthcare delivery across every region so that everyone, regardless of where they live can have a similar quality of healthcare.

Few other hospitals have started providing Telemedicine services. What sets Evercare’s Ecare apart?

Ecare is the first of its kind in Nigeria – the first proper hospital operator based telemedicine platform offering the entire value chain under one platform – consultation & diagnostics, all the way to prescriptions and lab referrals. Ecare also provides access to a wide range of specialists across different areas of medicine (multidisciplinary care) under one platform.

The Ecare platform is a unique technology that allows patients to upload their laboratory test results as well as imaging results which can then be viewed by the consultant before or during a consultation. Also, Ecare has a two-way add-on feature that allows the patient to invite a friend or family member on the consultation and at the same time permits the Clinician to invite a colleague in case of a multi-disciplinary or complicated consultation. It provides the flexibility of choosing the specialty or Specialist and the preferred appointment time.

It provides an end to end service to the patient with drug prescriptions and laboratory referrals if required and is modeled in such a way that it costs less than a physical visit, and therefore gives better value to our patients. Leveraging technology, Ecare is poised to ensure premium healthcare delivery for all our patients.

There are reports that Evercare will be unveiling its new Multi-Specialist Hospital in Nigeria. When  is the hospital set to be fully operational in Nigeria and what services can Nigerians expect to receive?

Evercare Hospital Lekki is a 165-bed state-of-the-art multispecialty, tertiary care hospital, which will offer care across a range of specialty medical services. Our focus is to build Centers of Excellence in the following fields including Mother & Child Care, Neurosciences, Cardiac Sciences, Orthopedics, and Emergency &Trauma. The Hospital is set to be fully operational in Lekki Lagos in Q4 2020 and will deliver accessible premium healthcare that Nigerians seek.

In what ways do you think the industry should harness technology to accelerate healthcare delivery in the country?

It is now obvious that technology is a critical element in healthcare delivery anywhere in the world. Access to good quality healthcare services should not be limited by location and availability within certain geographical areas. Technology can provide patients’ access to doctors in every area of the country through telemedicine. This ensures that no matter where you are, you can have access to a consultant specialist which will solve the issues of lack of an adequate number of physicians in certain locations within the country. Technology allows patients; doctors and stakeholders in the healthcare industry reap benefits of telemedicine.

Technology also has a role to play in maternal and infant health. Patients who normally may not have access to antenatal care can also be monitored remotely to ensure better outcomes for both mother and child.

There are now several home monitoring devices that can be used remotely to help doctors predict conditions that are critical by monitoring identified high-risk patients remotely. This will help reduce fatalities in patients through warning signals, to initiate a transfer to a higher level of care in the hospital setting. Our Ecare telemedicine platform is an excellent example of utilizing technology to accelerate healthcare delivery in the country.

In your experience, what are some of the areas of clinical operations that are lacking in terms of improving patient health?

When you consider population health in Nigeria, we now face a double whammy scenario, with an increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases, compounding existing burdens of communicable diseases. As a result, we are beginning to see higher numbers of patients with heart disease, kidney failure, complications of diabetes, and cancers. These require advanced tertiary and quaternary care, using highly sophisticated medical equipment and skilled medical personnel. Evercare is positioned to fill some of these gaps and build on additional service lines, as part of our growth and expansion plan. We will also focus on a robust preventive health plan, champion screening programs, and facilitate early diagnosis and treatment, to achieve superior outcomes. We need to move away from ‘sick care’ to ‘health care’, to improve patient health.

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